Drunk-driving bill passed by Alberta legislature

EDMONTON — A contentious new drunk-driving bill has passed in the Alberta legislature and will be phased in over time in the new year.

EDMONTON — A contentious new drunk-driving bill has passed in the Alberta legislature and will be phased in over time in the new year.

Transportation Minister Ray Danyluk says provisions that deliver steep penalties to drunk drivers will come first. New penalties for those driving close to but under the legal limit will come later.

Premier Alison Redford has promised the second phase will be accompanied by lengthy public education.

The drunk-driving bill was among six that passed third and final reading at the legislature Tuesday night.

The house was expected to wrap up the fall sitting Wednesday.

The drunk-driving legislation met with criticism inside and outside Redford’s Progressive Conservative caucus as soon as it was proposed.

Political opponents, along with Tory backbenchers Lloyd Snelgrove and Richard Marz, said there are steep ramifications for drivers who aren’t even legally drunk. They also suggested it could hurt the hospitality industry.

Redford and Danyluk have said the rules are tough, but fair, and are aimed at changing a culture of drinking and driving.

The Tories also passed new rules mandating spring general elections every four years starting in 2012. That means Redford could drop the writ on a vote in less than two months.

Another bill laid the groundwork for an independent inquiry into allegations doctors have been harassed and intimidated by their bosses for speaking out on substandard patient care.

Redford has promised to call such an inquiry after the Health Quality Council delivers its findings on the matter in February.

Another bill sets up the child advocate as an independent officer who reports directly to the legislature to improve reporting and government action on child care.

The province has also passed changes to its land rules that give private landowners more rights and better compensation when the government decides to place a hold on land it may want for a highway or water reservoir.

The final bill made housekeeping amendments to justice and court statutes.

Alberta politicians are expected to meet up one more time in the spring before the election.

Redford has said she wants to bring in a budget and present other policies to give voters a clear picture of where she wants to take the province before dropping the writ.